a journal of...

A journal among friends...
art, words, home, people and places

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Eye of the Beholder

Recently, when my niece announced she was heading for Asheville, her mother and I went along for the ride.  We stayed, as we almost always do, with my sister and brother-in-law, in their place a bit south of town.

The drive up, like the drive back, was beautiful, warm and sunny, but the days between were mixed...some fog, some wind, some bright sun, some warmth, an equal amount of chill.  The weather certainly wouldn't stop us relaxing in Eileen and Jim's comfortable home.  Everything in their house seems set up for letting go and enjoying each other.  There are puzzles to decipher, word games and card games, and plenty of coffee and tea (or wine) to take on the porch with a good book, or settle into a living room chair for a chat, the sort, especially, that doesn't find its way across geographic distance by phone, email, or text.

Visiting Eileen and Jim also means a chance to hop in the car and take a ride anywhere there are natural beauties, trails, and destinations to explore.  The Asheville area is full of them, so many, in fact, that on each visit there develops a list of places we need to go next time, and the next and the next.  Sometimes we take a picnic, sometimes we stop for salads on the way back.  One constant, whichever the direction, is Jim's camera bag.  Each trip, no matter where, is an opportunity to capture what only that moment can lay claim to.

This time, on the morning we wanted to get out on the road, it was overcast and chilly.  Such days aren't a problem for Eileen and Jim, however.  "We'll just go up to Biltmore," Eileen suggested. Particularly on days like these, no longer deep winter, not yet early spring, when the otherwise lush gardens seem ghostlike, its conservatory is the place they head.

photograph by Eileen Langdon
Jim has been photographing people and nature forever, it seems.  Ever since he was a young father, his photographs of his children growing up or the families coming together draw memory not only to the occasion but to the personalities and interactions gathered in one time and one place.  That is photography's best gift to us...recording not only a moment in time, but the story in it.

When my second son was born, his father presented me with a copy of a book of that very title. I was in the final leap of a dissertation on Miss Welty, a baby at home only just passed his first birthday,  and another just arrived, and it seemed to me the sweetest gift, that book of photographs, tendering to all the parts of me so juxtaposed by time and place.  Its cover is worn and pages loose, but it holds its magic tightly in the heart.

Despite that, time passes.  All our sons are grown and gone, one way or another, and my brother-in-law has turned to the outdoors to decipher its fragile, mysterious code of life.  I admit I do the same, though perhaps not so technically proficient.  So that morning we set out for Biltmore, cameras at the ready.

Though from the road it looks bereft, it's not fair to say that nothing is in bloom on the wide, rangy grounds;  buds are popping up through the tips of plants, green leaves shoot through the newly mulched ground heading for a daffodil explosion, even the woody detritus of winter's shearing seems lying in wait for regeneration.

And in the conservatory, room after room of hothouse plants spill over onto the narrow walking paths, inviting admiration and inciting the imagination to more glorious horticultural possibilities.  Jim brought his talented eye to it all.

photograph by Jim Langdon

photograph by Jim Langdon

photograph by Jim Langdon

photograph by Jim Langdon

photograph by Jim Langdon

As for me, I walked the grounds thinking of both past and future...blooms past, blooms to come.

my daffodils
When you receive this, it will be the first of March, and so for me daffodils naturally come to mind...the ones in my yard now, the ones that were in high bloom when Joseph was born forty-two years ago (for Michael, it was tulips brazening the pathways). Interestingly, as if to cater to the earth's warming, their yellow and white heads now arrive nearly a month earlier.  But that's time for you, always rearranging space, and memory.  As Wordsworth reminds us:

...in vacant or in pensive mood,
they flash upon that inward eye
which is the bliss of solitude;
and then my heart with pleasure fills
and dances with the daffodils.

Here are more of Jim's beautiful visions.  It would be redundant to offer words about them.  Their stories are in the eye of the beholder.

photograph by Jim Langdon

photograph by Jim Langdon

photograph by Jim Langdon


  1. family and flowers...two of my favorite things! The quote from Wadsworth is spot on :)
    Thank you again, your blog always assures me of of few minutes of pleasure.

  2. Lovely images and exquisite turns of phrase (tulips brazening the pathways!). We love Asheville, and finally toured the Biltmore Estate this past Christmas. But I think we'll wander through the conservatory on our next visit. Thanks for bringing your visit to life so vividly.